Ron Rivera may not be sending a check the next time his alma mater asks him for a donation.
A new UC Berkeley study has found that the nickname used by the Washington NFL franchise is much more offensive to Native Americans that prior surveys have suggested.
“Contrary to polls showing that relatively few Native Americans take offense at the Washington Redskins’ name, a new UC Berkeley study has found that at least half of more than 1,000 Native Americans surveyed are offended by the football team’s 87-year-old moniker and Native mascots in general,” writes Yasmin Anwar of the Berkeley News.
The study, which will be published this month in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows that the degree to which respondents identify as Native American influences the extent to which they find the term offensive. Specifically, the study found that 57 percent of those who “strongly identify with being Native American” and 67 percent of those “who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices” are “deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture.”
This finding contradicts multiple Washington Post polls that downplay the extent to which Native Americans are offended by the Washington team nickname. In 2016, a Post poll declared that 90 percent of Native Americans are not bothered by the name. Team owner Daniel Snyder announced at the time that he was “gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community.” Despite plenty of criticism of the poll, the huge number, along with national political trends that came to a head later that year, seemed to place the debate in mothballs, even though the term continues to be recognized as a dictionary-defined slur.
A 2019 poll from the Post, a publication owned since 2013 by potentially aspiring NFL team owner Jeff Bezos, declared that a poll of 500 self-identifying Native Americans regarding the term resulted in the most common reaction being described as “proud.” Curiously, the full results of the poll — including the number who said “proud” versus other terms like “indifferent,” “annoyed,” “content,” “satisfied,” and “disappointed” — were not published by the Post.
The Change the Mascot effort, supported by the Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians, has responded to the UC Berkeley study by renewing its call for the NFL and Snyder to change the name of the team.
“Having long called attention to the deeply offensive use and lasting psychological impacts stemming from the NFL’s use of a dictionary-defined slur for Native Americans, we are now urging the Washington team and NFL officials to take our collective voices seriously and finally change the mascot,” Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, who runs the Change the Mascot campaign, said in a statement. “Native Americans from across the country have been calling for the eradication of the racist and hurtful R-word epithet. And while we are pleased to see prestigious universities devote their attention to the issue, it should not require academic studies to validate appeals by people of color for decency and respect.”
I stopped using the term several years ago out of respect for those Native Americans who are offended by the term, no matter the precise number. (I have not issued a mandate to all PFT writers to follow suit; they can decide on their own whether to use the term, which continues to be the officially acknowledged name of an NFL franchise.) And here’s the fundamental question the NFL and Snyder must continue to ask themselves is this: What number of genuinely offended Native Americans is acceptable?
Yes, this post will trigger comments about political correctness run amok and it will spark a parade of horribles regarding potential franchise name changes for teams like the Giants (because it potentially offends large people) and the Saints (because it potentially offends sinners). The reality, no matter how many fans of the team get angry at me for declining to use the term, is this: Only one NFL team has a name that is recognized as a racial slur. And, inexplicably, the NFL is fine with that.
At some point in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, history will regard this dynamic with the same incredulity that it regards other examples of blatantly racist conduct that, through the passage and time and thanks to right-minded men and women of goodwill, was eventually regarded as wrong and, in turn, abandoned.